This shocking story is told by Skunk Cunningham (so named because her mum liked the group), who is 11 years old and in a coma.
We do not know why she is there until towards the end of the story, but she tells us of the events leading up to it, starting with the violent beating of teenage neighbour Rick Buckley by another neighbour (Bob Oswald) for something that he didn’t do.
Rick then becomes the ‘Broken’ of the title, and referred to as Broken Buckley throughout.
Bob’s life however seems to continue reasonably unchanged – father to five daughters who are just as thuggishly violent as him. Drink, drugs and sex help the days pass for the Oswald girls, and they revel in their reign of terror over everyone they know – including Skunk who is in class with one of them.
Skunk wants to enjoy just being a kid, playing too much X-Box with her older brother, forming a crush on her teacher (who also happens to be the boyfriend of their Welsh au pair – needed because their mum ran away to Spain years ago) and riding out in the sun on her bike.
But, living on this rather down-trodden square in Southampton that is lorded over by the Oswalds, Skunk is privvy to more violence, swearing, sex and criminal activity than is good for her. And yet her narration still has a naivety about it, and a poetic repetition that is somehow childlike, and lures the reader to its shocking and dramatic climax.
This isn’t like a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a contemporary realisation – evident even in the names that have been used (eg Skunk = Scout). Daniel Clay has made no secret of the fact that this was the inspiration for the story.
I listened to the audiobook, and Colin Moody’s narration was just right – a clever mixture of ‘telling’ what was coming in an ‘unaccented’ voice, and then accents used for actual speech, or when Skunk was narrating.
I usually only listen to books when I’m walking, but I found that as I came to the end of Broken, I was wandering around the flat in my headphones as I had to get to the end. I had to know what actually happened to Skunk, and whether we would ever see her come out of the coma.
An amazing, horrific, beautiful, powerful, contemporary book, I immediately thought that it would make a fantastic British film – we do gritty SO well. I looked it up and was so disappointed to see that a film HAS been made, and it should be quite good, but I had missed it being at the cinema by a matter of a couple of weeks – and so it’s not out on DVD yet either!
Gutted…but something to look forward to now!